Over the years, I have listened to many sermons from people whose teaching was of a poor quality, unbalanced, inadequate, or even false. Such men seem to be in the majority, such that most books and ministries are in some way unbiblical. Or at least they contain some kind of inaccurate or false teaching. Within the churches of the United States and Great Britain deception and error are now at pandemic levels.
The need to hear a wide range of teachers
Therefore, I want to emphasise the importance of listening to a wide range of different Bible teachers rather than just one. For most people the little bit of teaching they do receive is solely from their own pastor. Even if he happens to be an excellent teacher, which is very unlikely, because it is a rare gift, he can still only give you his own perspective. Therefore any mistakes or gaps in his knowledge will inevitably be transmitted on to you. Moreover, you will not be able to go any farther than he has gone.
If he does not know a particular thing then he cannot teach it to you. And if he is wrong about certain things then he will cause you to think wrongly as well. If, however, you deliberately aim for breadth and balance by listening to and reading from a wide variety of genuine Bible teachers, then you will avoid many of those problems. One man will correct another and help to cover any gaps in the other’s knowledge. That process of cross referring will greatly reduce the likelihood of you being accidentally misled or deliberately deceived.
The need for balance
A person can go wrong by making their own errors for themselves or by being misled or deceived by someone else. Either way, what they believe is equally wrong or false. However they can also go wrong merely by being out of balance. In other words, if you over-emphasise or under-emphasise a certain subject or issue then you can still be wrong even if, in itself, that thing is true. It is like making a cake with all the correct ingredients but with the quantities in the wrong proportions.
For example, the Bible clearly teaches that there is a genuine ministry of deliverance, which means the casting out of demons from people. However, if we over-emphasise it and even become obsessed with it, we are taking something valid and making it into a problem. Alternately, we can under-emphasise or shy away from such a topic. This is far more common. It usually arises as a knee jerk reaction to other people’s excesses or over-emphasis. We might see other people making errors about demons or over-emphasising them and then make the equal and opposite error of deciding not to teach about demons at all. Both imbalances are errors, and will cause problems, whichever direction you go in.
The need for correct levels of emphasis
By way of a further example, it is valid to say that God loves people and even that God is love. However if we over-emphasise that fact then we can very easily give a distorted and misleading picture of who He is. God does not choose to emphasise His love in the New Testament. He refers to it, but only briefly and occasionally, and when He does refer to His love it is in the context of addressing believers who are already saved, not unbelievers.
God does love unbelievers but Jesus and the apostles never chose to focus on God’s love when speaking to an audience of unbelievers. Instead, with unbelievers, they focused on things such as sin, judgment, repentance, God’s holiness, Hell and the Lake of Fire. They chose to emphasise these things deliberately, and for many good reasons.
Thus if you listen to a teacher who over-emphasises God’s love, and does not also speak about these other things, which we might perhaps describe as the “bad news”,then you will have an unbalanced picture of God. Moreover, you will not properly understand the gospel, which is the “good news” because the good news is the solution to the bad news. Therefore, if you don’t know what the bad news is in the first place, then you won’t grasp why the gospel is good news or why we need it.
The error that comes from a wrong emphasis is almost as bad as if someone was teaching you something which is directly untrue. It will have the same effect because it will cause you to become unbalanced and therefore to think wrongly. That, in turn, will cause you to speak and act wrongly.
Few, if any, people are truly balanced and capable of teaching in a proportionate manner across a very broad range of topics. One way God solves that problem is by giving you a wide variety of teachers. Then, if we listen to lots of them, we will get a much more balanced ‘diet’ overall, even though each teacher on his own can’t provide you with that fully balanced diet.
The need to study the whole Bible
The other remedy God provides is to give you the whole Bible. If you will make the effort to read all of it, and repeatedly, then that process alone will bring you back into balance, even without the help of good teachers. The trouble is that most of us don’t study the whole Bible. That neglect on our part makes a wide range of good teachers all the more necessary.
The need to beware of false teachers
There are lots of false teachers out there. In fact, it seems to me that the bad ones greatly outnumber the good. To make matters worse, many of the false teachers are well known and they go to great lengths to publicise themselves. Their books are often given prominence in Christian bookshops. Unless you have the maturity and the discernment to tell the difference between the true and the false, you will be deceived. Moreover, anyone who imagines that they cannot be deceived already has been. False teaching is very difficult to recognise if you are immature. Indeed, it is difficult enough even if you are mature.
The Devil knows that if he was to present you with false teaching which was so extreme as to be obviously false then you would not fall for it. Therefore most false teaching is not like that. It tends to be mixed up with quite a lot of genuine teaching. That gives it the appearance of being genuine throughout. It is like when a farmer puts down rat poison, which is ordinary wheat laced with toxic chemicals. What is fed to those rats is actually over 95% nutritious. If the wheat was not genuine, the rat would not eat the poison that is mixed into it. Therefore most false teaching is combined with other material which can be very valid. That genuine content is what will then entice you to accept the rest of it, if you are not vigilant.
Therefore, you have to be on your guard to look out for the lacing of poison, i.e. the false teaching, which is mixed in with the genuine. Unless you are aware of that danger and are carefully checking what you read or hear, you will inevitably be misled. I cannot emphasise this too much. You must never assume that just because some parts of a man’s teaching are true that that must mean that all the rest of it will be true as well. That does not follow. Every piece of teaching needs to be checked on its own merits and no assumptions can be made.
Also make it your aim to try to give each topic the same level of emphasis that the Bible gives to it. If the Bible says a thing once it is just as true as if the Bible says it 100 times. However, the thing that the Bible says 100 times is clearly something which God wants to emphasise. If so, then He wants you to emphasise it too. Thus, the thing God says once and the thing He says 100 times are both true, but they each have a different level of emphasis. That is important because it tells you what God wants you to emphasise.
The need to assess the character of every Bible teacher
Another key warning I would give you is that whenever you are reading or listening to the teaching of a Bible teacher or writer then look out for any signs of worldliness, carnality, manipulation, love of money or self-promotion in his teaching. For example, if someone is teaching about prayer and his emphasis is all about what you can get for yourself rather than on your praying for others, then something is wrong. I have seen some teaching about prayer which is so manipulative and self-serving that it comes close to being witchcraft.
We must never pray in such a way as to try to control others or to get them to do what we want. We cannot pray that someone will give money to us, or do what we want. That is manipulation. Such prayer would be warped and carnal. Yet, some people do teach about prayer in that misguided way.
Beware of any teacher or ministry that loves money
In particular, beware of any ministry which is financially grasping, ambitious or empire building. That approach is widespread today. If a ministry is regularly asking for money, then be on your guard, especially if they are pushy. Be particularly careful if any ministry is promising you blessings and benefits from God in return for you giving money to their ministry. That is just a con trick and it is not how God operates. He will certainly bless you and benefit you if you give money to a person or ministry that He tells you to give to. But, what God will never do is ask that leader or ministry to make an appeal to you on that basis. That is the way the world operates but it is not God’s way.
Therefore if you ever see that kind of attitude or approach, then it is a warning sign to you to beware of that whole ministry and to be very careful about what they teach generally. In other words, if a man does not have a godly style, attitude and characteristics, then it is likely that whatever he is teaching about is not from God either. Even if it is, it will probably be contaminated with his own carnal ideas and objectives.